Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Troy gets screwed. Or shafted. Take your pick.

The college bowl season is well underway, with a a handful of games already in the books (East Carolina's nail-biting upset of Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl being the most surprising result so far) and many more games to come over the following couple of weeks, including the traditional slate of games on New Year's Day and the BCS National Championship Game on January 7th. Once it's all over, 32 games involving 64 teams, or almost 54% percent of the 119-team Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A), will have been played.

Some college football elitists decry this proliferation of bowl games, claiming that most of these games are meaningless and that their existence has made the reward of postseason play equally meaningless. I disagree, because I like college football and more bowl games mean... more college football. Besides, it's not like anybody's being forced to watch any of these games. Don't think that Purdue and Central Michigan matchup in tonight's Motor City Bowl is worth watching? Then watch something else.

One of the best things about the large number of bowl games, however, is that fewer and fewer deserving teams miss out on postseason action. Several years ago, I began the fictional "Screw Bowl" and "Shaft Bowl" to commemorate teams, almost always belonging to one of the non-BCS "have-not" conferences, who racked up impressive records over the season but nevertheless spent the holidays at home. On four occasions (Wyoming in 1996, Miami of Ohio in 1998, Toledo in 2000, Northern Illinois), teams with ten wins were left out of the postseason bowl party. In eight other instances, nine-win teams stayed home. As the number of bowl games has increased, however, the number of teams with winning records who spend the holidays at home has decreased. Last year, for example, every team with a winning record went to a bowl game, thus no need for the Screw Bowl or the Shaft Bowl.

This year, only one school with a winning record is missing out on holiday bowl action. The Troy Trojans, of the Sun Belt Conference, ended the 2007 season with eight wins, including a road victory over BCS conference member Oklahoma State and a respectable showing against a Georgia team that is ranked #4 going into the bowl season. Their bowl hopes came down to the final week of the season, when they hosted Florida Atlantic for the right to win the Sun Belt Conference championship outright and represent the conference in the New Orleans Bowl. The Trojans fell to Howard Schnellenberger's Owls, however. Troy coach Larry Blakeney and his team spent an anxious few hours waiting for an at-large bowl bid that never materialized before accepting that, in spite of an 8-4 record, they would be spending the holidays at home.

While Troy got screwed and shafted out of the bowl picture (in this case, by the Sun Belt Conference's lack of bowl tie-ins), they were fortunately the only team to receive such a fate. Every other team with eight wins, all teams with seven wins, and even a handful of teams with six wins made it to the postseason. As such, I can't match Troy up with any other deserving programs in my fictional Screw Bowl and Shaft Bowl matchups, because there aren't any others. Which means that, for the second season in a row, there will be no Screw Bowl or Shaft Bowl.

Troy, a relative newcomer to the Bowl Championship Subdivision, has been to bowl games in the past - they clobbered Rice in last year's New Orleans Bowl - so it's not like they've been habitually excluded from postseason action. And, if nothing else, they do get to claim a share of the Sun Belt Conference title. But that's probably little consolation to the players and the fans who enjoyed a good season but missed out on the reward that is a bowl appearance. Better luck next year.

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